Monday, August 21, 2017

A Wish Come True

By Beth Sullivan
Decades ago, when we moved to our home in Stonington, one of the biggest draws for me was our small, two acre woodlot. To me it was huge. Combined with everyone else’s two acres, and then the adjoining parcels, the whole forest area was probably more like 75 acres of woods and wetlands. It was heaven. Back then, a group of local women rode their horses through our yard to get to the trails up behind us. They assured us “trespassing” was OK, and we began to wander up to explore it ourselves.
The Big Rock is now cleared and waiting for the dedication plaque.

The beauty of a backyard forest is that it was a safe place to let kids learn to wander and observe: close but yet just far enough away to be adventurous. Of course when they were young we all walked together, listening for birds, learning the trees, turning over rocks and logs, and then fantasizing about forts and rock outcrops and wild animals. We learned how to be quiet and wait for deer and turkey families. We became familiar with our local birds, woodpeckers of all species, and waited for the spring migrants to arrive. It was a very special place, and we always whispered a mental “thank you” to the owners, whoever they were.
One year we found white PVC pipes: perc test pipes, and we feared we would lose this special area. We waited and waited but nothing ever happened.
In the spring, the vernal pools will fill and streams will run.

The forest is in good health with layers of understory.

We know local kids would use ATV’s up there and snowmobiles in winter. They kept the trails open but sure were noisy. We did encounter deer hunters up there and found their stands and bait stations. That was hard to explain to the children. Soon though, it was posted “No Hunting,” and we felt safer.
Years passed, our dream was that it would never be sold, or never developed, or maybe that if it went for sale we could somehow buy it. Big dreams.
Imagine my absolute delight when I heard that someone had approached Avalonia to discuss a way to preserve a large portion of this land.
It became a somewhat complicated tale of complex negotiations, but due to the skill of negotiating and planning, and some very great generosity on behalf of owners and donors, Avalonia now is the proud owner of The Woodlot Sanctuary on Pellegrino Rd. in Stonington.
Finding drill holes and marking the boundaries  is a first stewardship chore.

A long history

I had the great opportunity to meet and talk with two of the donors , George and Nancy Bates, who have family ties to the land, and they explained the story. George and Nancy wrote a narrative for me that will be posted on the Woodlot page on our website.
The two front lots were owned by William and Ann Frohn, and the back lot was owned by the Freeman/ Biddle families from here in Stonington. Back at Christmas in 1935, it was literally gifted to Barbara Freeman Biddle by her father Clayton Eugene Freeman, to be her very own woodlot. To represent the gift, a log was wrapped with a big Red satin bow and presented to her. Over the years the woodlot was visited by the family for fun and for harvesting wood for the family compound on Elihu Island. The kids back then explored like kids now, and named “The Grandfather Oak”, a huge tree that has since fallen to drought, insects, hurricanes or all of the above. The stump remains. That lot was passed to their children, one of whom is Nancy Biddle Bates, wife of George Bates.
George Bates puts hands on the Old Grandfather Oak stump.

In later years the back lot was sold to the Frohns. William and Ann Morton Frohn were conservation minded as well. Avalonia was always on their radar.
In 2010 the plan was developed by George to be able to preserve the entire parcel, all three lots and two lots that were scheduled to be house lots. Thanks to the generosity of both the Bates family and the Frohns, close to 30 acres have now been preserved. The land will be dedicated to Ann Frohn and Barbara Biddle, and at a future date there will be a plaque attached to “The Big Rock” in their honor.
There are some ledges and rocky outcrops to enjoy.

We walked the boundary, passing through some pretty wetland areas.

A healthy forest to visit

I have walked the existing trails and bushwhacked the edges to explore the beautiful uplands which are healthy forest areas with great understory of thicket and berry bushes. There are two wetlands, on the North and South ends of the property. One drains directly into our reservoir; the other waters wander ultimately to Stonington Harbor. We will create and mark trails, develop a management plan, and begin our stewardship chores .
For me those chores will be a pleasure as I won’t be “trespassing” any more. My grown daughters can come back to explore and I can introduce my grandson to the Big Rock and Grandfather Oak who are old friends. My wish came true.
Thank you to the Bates and Frohn families for this generous and thoughtful donation.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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